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Urban mission on hold till polls

New Delhi, Jan. 16: The government has decided to put on hold the second phase of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission till next year’s general elections as very little political mileage has come its way through the scheme.

Sources said the urban development ministry would approach the cabinet committee on economic affairs tomorrow for approval of an interim amount of Rs 15,000 crore to fund infrastructure projects till then.

“There is a clear priority shift in the government’s planning. With plans for upcoming bills, such as food security, going to be budget-intensive, the government no longer wants to spend money on the urban renewal mission,” said a senior official.

Other than JNNURM buses, which prominently display the logo, the government has been finding it tough to impress voters about the Centre’s contribution to the project.

The Congress had also struggled to inform voters during the recent polls in Gujarat, where chief minister Narendra Modi had highlighted development as one of the BJP government’s achievements, that the Centre was funding infrastructure projects.

Over 1,350 projects have been approved since the urban mission was launched in 2005, but only 423 projects have been completed so far. The first phase ended on March 31 last year.

The change in the government’s thinking has been almost sudden. Former President Pratibha Patil, in her address to Parliament on March 12 last year, had said the mission’s second phase would be launched soon. The President’s speech to Parliament, drafted by the government, is usually indicative of its policies.

In 2011, the government set up an expert committee, which recommended that since the JNNURM was the first attempt at investing in urban infrastructure, it needed at least Rs 40 lakh crore in funds. The committee suggested that ideally, 0.25 per cent of the GDP should be invested in the mission.

The proposal for the second phase had been pushed around between the urban development ministry and the Planning Commission for a long time. In October, the urban development ministry took the plan to the Expenditure Finance Committee.

Before getting approval from the cabinet, every project has to be cleared by this committee that has members from all ministries.

According to sources, the finance ministry was reluctant to foot the bill for the second phase, citing paucity of funds.

The finance ministry insisted on stringent conditions, an official said.

The ministry wanted the government to give financial assistance only if municipalities were stable enough to float bonds in the open market.